If there is such a thing as a “flexible planner” then that would be me. I like to have a general timeline laid out, but within that there is room for spontaneity. This worked perfectly for navigating a Walt Disney World theme park on a timeline with two toddlers! I am by no means implying that I have figured out all the tricks, far from it actually, but I did learn a lot during our first trip to the park as a family of four.
We decided to drive straight to the park versus going to the hotel first. I had booked us an early dinner at Rainforest Cafe at the front of the park next to the entrance so we could leave right after that around five in the evening. When we got out of the car to catch the tram the first thing we quickly realized was that our Citymini GT double stroller was not going to be practical if we were going to make going to theme parks a regular thing. It was huge and bulky on the tram and folding and unfolding was a hassle. Will invest in a double umbrella stroller first thing when we get home. I’m pretty certain C thought the tram was the first ride. He was beaming with excitement!
I had pre purchased our annual passes online and it said to pick them up at will call. There is no will call at Animal Kingdom Park, only the regular ticket line so you could just get them there if you need tickets (or from your hotel and link them to your MagicBands). We got our pass holder cards and entered the gates.
When I read the Guide for Guests with Cognitive Disabilities they talked about getting the Disability Access Pass for individuals with Autism and their families. When you enter the park all you have to do is go to Guest Services (locations for each park are listed on their website or the MyDisneyExperience App) which was directly inside the gate on the left. A Disney cast member (the name they use for their employees) was standing outside with an iPad and greeted us right away. I explained that my son had Autism and I was interested in getting the Disability Access Pass, or the “DAS Pass” as they call it, so we could limit the amount of time he would have to wait in line. She was more than happy to set it up for us. All she had to do was scan his card first and then all of ours and take his picture (while he remained in the stroller). She offered to set up our first DAS Pass for us so she could show us how it looked on our schedule in the MyDisneyExperience App. I highly recommend downloading this app for your trip. You can do just about anything from it from checking wait times for rides to setting up FastPasses and make dining reservations. The best feature for us was the walking gps. When you pick a ride you want to go to on the app you can just follow the app to get you there and it gives you how many minutes it will take you so no more trying to figure out when you need to leave by or getting there way to early or busting out the giant park map trying to figure out where everything is!
Things to know about the DAS Pass:
- Works like a FastPass and can be used in addition to any other FastPasses you have set up.
- The DAS Pass takes 10 minutes off the current wait time.
- You must go to the attraction to obtain the DAS Pass (she suggested picking rides that your little one can’t see what the actual ride is so they don’t get excited and not be able to go on it right then. Think ‘Its a Small World’ not ‘Dumbo’)
- Your entire party can use it so if you are going to the park with 10 people, all 10 can get in the same ride at the same time.
- When you want to obtain one just go to the attraction and tell a cast member you would like to set up a DAS Pass and hand the card, magic band or ticket of the individual who it’s attached to and then everyone else you want a pass for.
- Return anytime after your allotted time and go through the FastPass line!
- Unlike FastPass which is limited to three at a time on the app or one at a time in person at the park, you can get as many DAS Passes in a day as you would like, you just have to use one at a time and you have to go to the attraction as there isn’t a way to set it up on the app.
- You also have as long as you want to use the DAS Pass. You are not limited to the hour window like FastPass.
I had set up three FastPasses on the app and now we had a DAS Pass as well, so we were all set to go! We were starving by the time we got into the park itself so we stopped at the first quick service place we saw. Right after the big bridge with view of the Tree of Life just to the right was where we ended up. The first thing I noticed was there wasn’t too many gluten free options. We had packed a couple sandwiches for the kids so they would be fine. Disney allows you to bring in food and beverage (non-alcoholic) for individuals with dietary concerns. They never even ask us about it when we bring our hand held cooler in! We ended up splitting a veggie wrap that was pretty amazing! It had chickpeas, rice, vegetable curry and a yogurt sauce inside a pita like wrap. Bonus, Animal Kingdom has beer pretty much anywhere you go as well as sangria! Another side note, if you have a baby with you or one of the little ones need some quite time, the first aid/baby centers located throughout the parks are amazing. Air conditioned, quiet and clean! The air dryers bothered both my boys in the larger bathrooms, but they had no issues going into these little hidden gems!
The first two rides we went right through the FastPass line. My husband was very impressed with my organizational skills to make this happen. Our first stop was to see Mickey & Minnie and take pictures. C was so excited! He got to hug them both and give high fives. R still felt the same about the characters in person as last time, he wasn’t feeling it.
The Kilimanjaro Safaris was our second stop. They have a list of animals to look for. Our guide was really descriptive on where to look to see the animals so the kids both got to see many different kinds. The hippo even put on a little show playing in the water. I really think R was entertained during this even if he didn’t see all the animals! Going on the Jeep was probably his favorite part of the day.
We then went to go to a show I had booked a FastPass for. Shows are different as far as when you can show up when you are using a FastPass. You have to show up in the 15 minute window that they give you otherwise you will be waiting in the standard line. We missed the window, but were still able to get in and see the show. We got super lucky to get a seat though! Some of the people behind us were standing in the back for the entire 30 minutes! Troopers! The only line we ended up standing in only had a 20 minute wait. C saw it from a mile away and insisted on going! TriceraTop Spin is basically like Dumbo at Magic Kingdom with dinosaurs instead of elephants. Once the ride started they both had a blast!
We headed to Rainforest Cafe for dinner at 4pm. You wouldn’t think it would be slammed at 4pm, but it most certainly was. In hindsight this was not the best time to go considering neither kid had a nap. We ate pretty quickly and headed out. Side note, Rainforest Cafe even though incredibly loud and busy, R didn’t freak out at all and as long as you can eat meat there are plenty of gluten free options for you.
Pulling into Wilderness Lodge after a long day at the park was exactly what I needed. The picturesque scenery of a giant luxurious ski lodge amongst the towering pine trees and sounds of waterfalls and babbling brooks would make the perfect post card. I made sure to pick somewhere with room service and bell service per our last trip and this made a huge difference especially after a long day. We just pulled up and they took care of everything. The lobby is more than grand, it’s breathtaking. A floor to ceiling fireplace that could fit a family of 8 inside anchored the great room surrounded by glass windows overlooking the back of the property. Once inside the room we ordered room service for dinner. Plenty of gluten free options including sandwich bread! We had a tuna melt and chips and salsa….and wine….mmmmmm wine! We really should change up the schedule a bit next time we come. Maybe do a sit down lunch at the park for some better gluten free options and come back to the hotel for dinner. Will have to try that next time. It was so nice to have the kids relax by the tv before baths while T and I sat down for a nice dinner together.
I brought the portable blow up bed rails that I ordered after our last trip and they worked AWESOME! They are firm and stay put! The kids slept much better, but I’m not sure I did. Our room was located next to the dock on the water. The boat that goes from the resort to Magic Kingdom was running every 20 minutes and lays on the horn at every approach and deport from the dock. That lasted until 12:30am when the park closed and the boat stopped making trips. Then there was the electrical water parade at 9:30pm which plays super loud music to go along with the floats. If the kids were a bit older and stayed up this late, this would have been really cute to watch from the room, but not ideal for toddlers. If staying at a resort with water transportation and bringing toddlers, ask in advance for a room away from the dock. If your kids are older then do the opposite and ask for a room on the water so you can watch the parade from the comfort of your balcony!
Sunrise from the room was pretty breathtaking. We ended up ordering room service for breakfast so we would have no issues with getting gluten free options. The boys weren’t feeling super great so we opted to just head to the playground and head home. The playground at Wilderness Lodge was under construction so we went to Animal Kingdom Lodge instead. It was super cute with thatched roofs on top of the play sets. Seeing how great that playground was and how much C loved the animals on the safari the day before, I knew I had to book his birthday trip for January at Animal Kingdom Lodge.
Overall our first trip to the park using the FastPasses and the DAS Pass was a success and gave us lots of confidence to try it again. R seemed to really enjoy the rides and tolerate the waits and time in between the rides better than I expected. We brought the iPad for him to play on and I think this really helped. C’s excitement and happiness was palpable and made it so worth it! Can’t wait to try it again at the beginning of the year for his birthday!
Some things to remember for our next trip:
- Bring umbrella style stroller!
- If buying a day ticket, you can buy them at the hotel or the park.
- If you buy the annual pass, ask for discount wherever you go on Disney property. We even got 10% off at Rainforest Cafe!
- The Disability Access Pass was so easy to obtain. Remember to use it for rides that you can’t see what you’ll be doing.
- First Aid/ Baby Centers are great for a calmer environment for kids to use the bathroom or just take a break.
- If using FastPass or DAS Pass for shows make sure you show up in your 15 minute window!
- If staying at a hotel with water transportation, plan your reservations for your family (will your kids be up for the water shows or will they be sleeping)